Titus, Cortez Masto introduce bill to give Nevada a veto over Yucca Mountain

Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) introduced legislation Tuesday that would require consent from state, local and tribal governments to construct a national nuclear waste repository, including at Yucca Mountain about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

“No state or community should have a nuclear waste dump forced upon its residents,” Titus said in a release, adding that “Nevadans are strongly opposed to the storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain.”

Titus praised President Joe Biden’s opposition to the project after former President Donald Trump’s administration pressed to build the repository at Yucca Mountain in all but the last year of his term.  

“This legislation should serve as a guide for the Biden Administration to find a new site to store nuclear waste based on local consent,” Titus continued.

Cortez Masto said the bill will fix a broken process that does not allow for input from state and local communities. 

“This legislation ensures that states like Nevada have a seat at the table when a permanent nuclear repository is proposed in their backyards,” the Nevada Democrat said in a release.

Gov. Steve Sisolak, an ardent Yucca opponent, called for Congress to pass the bill and abandon the project.

“The past 34 years of failure have demonstrated that a forced nuclear waste siting process cannot work in our system of government,” Sisolak said in a statement. The bill “offers a workable path forward. Congress should immediately act to pass the [bill] and abandon the failed Yucca Mountain Project.”

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) and Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV), who all have pledged to block the project, co-sponsored the Senate and House measures, respectively.   Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) was invited to co-sponsor the bill, but declined, according to Titus' office.

First introduced in 2015 and periodically reintroduced since, the Nuclear Waste Informed Consent Act would require the consent of the governor, affected local governments and affected local tribes to use dollars from the Nuclear Waste Funds to build any national nuclear waste repository anywhere in the country. 

The fund, financed by ratepayers, was established under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA). The 1982 NWPA initially directed the Department of Energy (DOE) to site, construct and operate a geologic repository for high-level nuclear waste. The law was amended in 1987 and directed DOE to focus its work solely on Yucca Mountain—known colloquially as the Screw Nevada Bill.

Opponents of the project argue that the 1987 changes to the NWPA were unfairly pushed through over state objections that the project is not safe and will ultimately result in contamination of the water in the area. 

Nevada’s congressional delegation has successfully managed to keep the project from receiving funds since 2011.

This story was updated on Tuesday March 2, 2021, at 2:47 p.m. to note that Rep. Mark Amodei declined to co-sponsor the legislation.

Acting OMB chief: Trump has not decided to cut funds to Nevada over vote-by-mail

The front of the White House. Public domain image.

Acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought said Tuesday that he has not taken any steps to identify federal funds that could be denied to Nevada following President Donald Trump’s tweet last month threatening the state should it go forward with a vote-by-mail plan.

The president “has not made a decision to move in that direction,” Vought told Sen. Jacky Rosen at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing.

“OMB has not done anything on that front to begin to withhold funding as it pertains to those two states,” he continued.  

Trump issued a similar tweet about Michigan. Vought appeared before the panel Tuesday on his nomination to become the permanent OMB chief.

Rosen pressed Vought on what Trump meant by the tweet, what funds were in play, whether he agreed with the idea and whether he would go through with the order.

Vought said that it is not his job to have an opinion on policy and that he would not divulge his conversations with the president. But he added that OMB is dedicated to accomplishing the president’s policy goals.

“It's not my role to have an opinion on that,” Vought told Rosen, adding that “OMB is dogged in accomplishing the president's objectives consistent with the law.”

In the May 20 tweet, Trump said that the state’s plan would create “a great Voter Fraud scenario” and that he would move “to hold up funds to the State” should the state go forward with the plan. 

The tweet was met with opposition from Nevada officials, including from Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske who said the decision to transition to a mail-in election was lawful, and was done to ensure the election would happen on schedule and to preserve voters’ and poll workers’ health. 

Rosen also pushed Vought for a commitment to providing no funds to build a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in future budgets. 

Vought would only say that OMB would follow the president’s thinking on the matter. 

“We’re going to ensure that his future budgets continue to reflect where his head is at,” Vought said.

Trump’s fiscal year 2021 budget, the first of his budgets since he was elected, included no funds for the project, which is opposed by the state’s congressional delegation.

Indy DC Download: Congress sends $8.3 billion coronavirus spending package to Trump’s desk

Congress last week quickly approved an $8.3 billion emergency spending package to help contain the spread of the coronavirus around the nation, including in Nevada, which reported its first case Thursday. 

Trump signed the measure into law Friday. Approval of the emergency package comes as the House last week approved a bill to put Transportation Security Administration screeners, also known as transportation security officers (TSOs,) on par with other federal workers with regard to pay and benefits. The Senate, meanwhile, began consideration of a comprehensive energy package. 

Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette was also on Capitol Hill last week, appearing before two committees on the White House’s Department of Energy budget request. He took questions from lawmakers, including Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, who pressed him on details about alternatives to building a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain. He also signaled support for a pilot interim nuclear waste storage program championed by Senate appropriators. 

Coronavirus

The $8.3 billion included $2.2 billion to support federal, state, and local public health agencies to prevent, prepare for and respond to the virus.

All members of the state’s congressional delegation voted for the measure. The House approved the package 415 to 2 on Wednesday, the same day it was unveiled by appropriators, and the Senate cleared the bill 96 to 1 on Thursday.

Rep. Steven Horsford, who represents the area where the first case was identified, said that approval of the funds comes at a crucial time to address the outbreak.

“This is why we voted for the $8.3 billion emergency supplemental so that we could get additional resources to our states, get additional testing kits out to all the public health facilities throughout the country, including in Nevada,” Horsford said. 

Horsford said that Nevada is well-positioned to quickly pass the federal funds on to state and local health agencies. He added Gov. Steve Sisolak had recently convened key agencies under existing state emergency protocols. 

“I have the utmost confidence in the governor and the actions that have been taken so far in Nevada,” he said.

The bill also included more than $3 billion for research and development of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics. A vaccine is not expected to be available for about a year, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, told a congressional panel last week.

Rep. Dina Titus cited information from health authorities, including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC,) urging basic hygiene and that most people who get the illness caused by the coronavirus, COVID-19, likely will recover in a week or two, without need for hospitalization.  Older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions are at risk for more severe illness.

“According to the CDC, the general public is unlikely to be exposed to the virus at this time and the immediate health risk remains low,” Titus said. “People in communities where coronavirus has been reported are at elevated, though still relatively low, risk of exposure.” 

The package was a product of weeks of negotiations between House and Senate appropriators. Republican Rep. Mark Amodei, a member of the Appropriations Committee, said he was glad that lawmakers resisted the temptation to add extraneous spending. 

“We very often attempt to go ‘You never want to waste a good emergency,’” Amodei said on CSPAN Thursday morning, adding that the bill was nevertheless tailored to only meet the need.

The measure also included $500 million over 10 years through Medicare to be used toward a remote health care program.

Earlier last week, Sen. Jacky Rosen, at a hearing on the virus in the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, raised the idea of using remote doctor visits, via the internet, as a safe course of action.

“Since the symptoms of coronavirus can present like the cold or the flu, I can only imagine that with what people are seeing in the news that they’re going to seek out care,” Rosen said. “An increase in those seeking care and having to travel is not only hard on them but creates a burden on the system.” 

On Friday, Cortez Masto and Rosen sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar calling on him to comply with a request by Sisolak for more testing kits. 

“We respectfully request that you work to quickly enhance the capacity of Nevada’s state-based health agencies to test patients for the virus,” the letter said. “As a state dominated by tourism, it is especially critical that Nevada has the tools it needs to address this issue.”

TSA

The House voted 230 to 171 to give TSOs benefits that other federal workers receive, including being put on the federal General Schedule pay system, which would increase their salaries, family and medical leave and expanded collective bargaining rights. 

TSA was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and TSOs were exempted from what is known as Title V rights in order to keep the security workforce nimble to respond to threats. Title V outlines the organization, conditions, and rights of federal workers.

“We all remember the strain that the 2019 government shutdown had on our working families, and our Transportation Security Officers felt the pain more than most,” said Rep. Susie Lee. “TSOs already receive some of the lowest pay with weak federal workforce rights, and that was made painfully clear when many could barely make ends meet during the 35-day shutdown. That’s just wrong.”

Amodei opposed the bill and pointed to efforts to increase TSO pay in the budget. But he characterized the measure as an attempt to make Republicans look bad for attack ads.

“Once again we're having the same discussion on messaging,” Amodei said.

As a frequent flier out of McCarran International Airport, Titus spoke highly of the TSO workforce and said the measure is “the least we could do.”

“I fly in and out of McCarran every weekend and those people are very good to me, and they work very hard and I appreciate them being on the front lines,” Titus said. 

Titus added that the low pay and comparably poor benefits have led to low morale and increased turnover.

“And that's not good for security,” she said. “By time you train somebody to recognize a dangerous situation they’re gone.”

Energy

Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette last week told a Senate spending panel that he could implement a pilot temporary nuclear waste storage program that Senate appropriators, led by Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, have sought to fund within the annual DOE budget.

Alexander, who is chairman of the panel that oversees the DOE budget, urged Brouillette to work with the panel to enact the program, which would allow DOE to license and build a temporary storage facility.  

Alexander has included the pilot program language in the Senate annual DOE budget bill for the last seven years. But House supporters of Yucca Mountain, including Illinois Republican Rep. John Shimkus, have objected to the idea because it would take the pressure off building the Yucca project. 

Alexander indicated he intends to see if he can “get our friends in the House of Representatives to agree with us” to get the language into the final bill. 

The effort could succeed now that the Trump administration has said it intends to look for alternatives, including interim storage, to building the Yucca repository. 

Brouillette’s exchange with Alexander came a day after the energy secretary took questions from Cortez Masto on the change in position on Yucca. 

At a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the Nevada senator received reassurances from Brouillette that Yucca was off the table, but he declined to say if he’d support repealing the 1987 law designating Yucca Mountain as the site for a national nuclear waste repository. 

“I’d have to reserve judgment and see exactly what you are doing, but I’ll go back to what I said earlier, we are not going to pursue Yucca Mountain as a final repository,” Brouillette said.

Opponents of the project, such as Cortez Masto, argue that the law 1987 amendments to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, often referred to in the state as the “Screw Nevada Bill,” was unfairly pushed through in a way that prioritized politics over science.

Meanwhile, the Senate began consideration of a broad energy bill that included language to authorize $270 million a year for five years for research and development of solar energy technologies. 

Cortez Masto and Rosen both voted to take up the bill last week.

For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.

SEN. CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO

Legislation sponsored:

S. 3367 – Diversity in Corporate Leadership Act of 2020

Legislation co-sponsored:

S. 3390 – A bill to provide for a new building period with respect to the cap on full-time equivalent residents for purposes of payment for graduate medical education costs under the Medicare program for certain hospitals that have established a shortage specialty program.

S. 3389 – A bill to provide the National Credit Union Administration Board flexibility to increase Federal credit union loan maturities, and for other purposes.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation co-sponsored:

S. 3367 – Diversity in Corporate Leadership Act of 2020

SEN. MARK AMODEI

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 6066 – To require the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak to implement and carry out certain National Transportation Safety Board recommendations, and for other purposes.

Cortez Masto presses DOE secretary on plan to seek Yucca alternatives

Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette sought to reassure Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto on Tuesday that the Department of Energy plans to seek alternatives to storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, but he stopped short of backing an effort to change the law designating the site for a national repository.

At a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing Tuesday on the DOE budget, Cortez Masto, who opposes the project, asked Brouillette what DOE would do if Congress provided funds for the Yucca project in the current fiscal year.

‘We will follow the law, obviously, but it’s our intent to look for alternatives to Yucca Mountain,” Brouillette said. “It’s our intent to begin a process, and that's why we’ve requested $27.5 million in the budget, to do a few things.” 

“One is to maintain our fiduciary obligation to the people of Nevada and maintain the site,” the energy secretary said. “But we would also propose that we be allowed to use that $27.5 million to look at research and development that might lead to alternatives to that final repository at Yucca Mountain.”

Cortez Masto also pressed Brouillette about whether he would support a repeal of the 1987 law that designated the Yucca the spot for the nation to bury its nuclear waste.

“I’d have to reserve judgment and see exactly what you are doing, but I’ll go back to what I said earlier, we are not going to pursue Yucca Mountain as a final repository,” Brouillette said.

At a House hearing last week, Brouillette said the administration currently has no plans to change the law even though it would be needed to implement storing waste at temporary sites, which is something DOE has said it could explore. 

Brouillette did promise to include the state in discussions about the possible alternatives. He also left open the possibility of supporting legislation that would require state and local consent to advance the project. Cortez Masto is working with Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski on adding that language to a pending nuclear energy bill. 

“We’d have to see the work that’s being done, obviously, but we can give you a commitment to that end,” Brouillette said. “That is the intent of the president’s comments that he’s made publicly. It’s the intent of the U.S. Department of Energy, we will certainly work with the Congress, we also work with policymakers at both the state and local level to find an appropriate, ultimate solution for this spent fuel.“ 

After seeking funds for the project in his first three budgets, President Donald Trump reversed course in the fiscal 2021 budget blueprint and in a tweet last month said he heard Nevadans on the issue of Yucca. Most Nevada lawmakers and business interest groups oppose the project’s proposed site, which is located about 90 miles from Las Vegas. 

Following the release of the budget, Gov. Steve Sisolak, who was in Washington for the annual National Governors Association winter meeting, hand-delivered a letter to the White House calling on Trump to pledge to veto legislation that would advance the Yucca project and "undermine the State’s legal standing or consent requirements."

The White House has not yet responded according to Sisolak's office.

But "the Governor was able to share his concerns with [acting White House] Chief of Staff [Mick] Mulvaney when he delivered the letter, and our office continues to work with our federal delegation to verify the Administration's commitment to not move forward with the Yucca Mountain nuclear repository site," Sisolak's office said in an email.

Trump’s decision on Yucca also comes as he looks to win Nevada in his 2020 re-election bid. He lost the state to Hillary Clinton in 2016 by two points. 

After the hearing, Murkowski said she welcomed the president's budget request dropping funds for Yucca because it would allow Congress to focus on advancing legislation to authorize temporary nuclear waste storage rather than expending energy on the Gordian knot that is Yucca. 

“We think we have an opportunity to move on our interim waste bill,” Murkowski said. “I always thought that was a path that we needed to pursue as well. And so I think this gives us an opportunity and an opening.” 

The energy secretary also said that DOE remains on track for removing the half metric-ton of weapons-grade plutonium the agency secretly shipped to the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) from the Savannah River site in South Carolina.

In April, Cortez Masto struck a deal with then-Energy Secretary Rick Perry to remove the plutonium beginning in 2021 and getting all of it out by 2026. The DOE disclosed in January 2019 as part of a lawsuit filed by the state to prevent any plutonium shipment—after talks with DOE yielded no resolution—that it had already shipped the plutonium. 

Cortez Masto also asked about a proposed increase for the NNSS of more $230 million, which Brouillette said was to help look after the nation’s nuclear arsenal.

“The research and development work that’s going to be done at that site will determine our ability to safely maintain the stockpile for the next 30, perhaps 40 years,” Brouillette said.

This article was updated at 4:47 p.m. to include comments from Gov. Steve Sisolak's office.

Indy DC Download: Republican anti-abortion bills failed in the Senate as the House approved a sweeping measure to crack down on youth smoking

East front of the U.S. Capitol.

The Senate last week failed to advance two GOP-drafted bills to restrict abortion while the House approved legislation to curtail youth smoking despite concern that a provision banning menthol-flavored cigarettes would enable law enforcement to target the black community. 

Those votes came as a House spending panel criticized President Donald Trump’s decision to seek short-term alternatives to building a permanent nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain. 

Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette told the House Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee that the White House request for $27.5 million will be used to develop temporary storage alternatives, but had no details other than to say that preliminary work, with federal and state input, would be conducted on those efforts. 

He also said that the administration does not plan to seek a change to the existing nuclear waste law even though it would need to be altered to pursue any alternatives to Yucca.

Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur, who is the chairman of the panel, said the White House “plan is hollow.”

While she agreed that interim storage is needed, she wants to see more details. 

Republicans on the panel were also critical. Ranking member Mike Simpson of Idaho said he was frustrated, remains dedicated to Yucca, but doesn’t expect a funding push for the project this year given the White House’s reversal. The fiscal 2020 White House budget blueprint is the first in Trump’s presidency that did not include funding for the project. 

Another member, Republican Dan Newhouse of Washington, said the president was “playing politics” on the nuclear storage issue.

His comment underscores Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign strategy to compete in Nevada, a state he lost in 2016 by just two points.

Senate

Both Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Sen. Jacky Rosen voted against the anti-abortion bills. The measures needed 60 votes to advance, but neither could clear that hurdle.

The bills come ahead of the 2020 election in November and allow members to register their support on an issue that could play a role in energizing Republican voters. The votes also came the same week as the Conservative Political Action Conference, where right-wing activists heard from GOP members of Congress and President Donald Trump's administration.

Cortez Masto spoke out on the Senate floor against the bills, one which would ban abortion once a fetus reaches the 20-week mark and another which would require doctors to treat infant survivors of failed abortions.

“These bills are part of a wave of efforts to turn back the clock on women’s health,” Cortez Masto said

Twenty-five new abortion bans were signed into law by state legislatures in 2019, primarily in the South and Midwest, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights.

Cortez Masto cited efforts by the Nevada Legislature, the only majority-women legislature in the nation, to protect access to abortion and a history of state support for abortion rights, including amending the state constitution in the 1990s.

"Eighty-three percent of Nevadans are pro-choice, and I stand with them,” Cortez Masto said. “Nevadans understand that reproductive rights are part and parcel not just of women’s health, but of their economic security. When women can’t control whether and when they have children, they are more likely to struggle financially.”  

Rosen called the measures “two extreme anti-choice bills that would have been a step backward for reproductive rights and women’s health.”

The 20-week ban, sponsored by South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, failed 53 to 44 with two Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, supporting the measure. Two Republicans, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, voted against the bill.

The other measure, sponsored by Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, failed 56 to 41 with all Republicans plus Manchin and Casey voting for the bill.

The Senate also last week approved three judges and elevated Katharine MacGregor to be the number two at the Department of Interior. Rosen and Cortez Masto supported all the judges but opposed MacGregor.

“Sen. Rosen had several concerns regarding MacGregor’s actions while at Interior, including taking the lead on rolling back environmental protections by prioritizing oil and gas drilling,” her office said.

MacGregor worked as a registered lobbyist between 2003 and 2007 and served in several positions at the agency since joining the administration in 2017, including principal deputy assistant secretary of Lands and Minerals Management. 

House 

Meanwhile, the House voted on expansive legislation designed to cut smoking among minors. The bill passed 213 to 195 and would prohibit all flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and menthol cigarettes. The bill also would place a new tax on nicotine.

All Nevada Democrats voted for the bill, but Rep. Dina Titus and Rep. Susie Lee had reservations about provisions affecting their districts.

“I would have liked to have seen pipe tobacco excluded,” Titus said. “They're not going after children to smoke pipes. There are some old pipe shops and cigar shops around in the district, but they’re in the bill. I am going to vote for the bill.” 

Lee had a similar issue with hookah lounges. “I have 80 of them in my district,” she said.

Lee pushed to offer an amendment to exempt them but was rejected by House Democratic leaders.

Ultimately, 17 Democrats opposed the bill. Rep. Yvette Clarke, a New York Democrat, said that, despite the health issues, the ban would give police a license to stop and frisk black smokers. 

“#mentholban justifies police stops & would hand law enforcement another excuse to #stopandfrisk Black tobacco users,” Clarke said on Twitter. “Despite the health benefits of this ban, I cannot expose vulnerable communities to this risk.” 

Rep. Steven Horsford said he voted for the bill because he feels strongly about cutting youth smoking.

“I have a strong record of fighting to make sure that our kids are protected from any harm of dangerous smoking,” Horsford said after the vote. “Obviously vaping has become a big issue… I think that we need a policy that allows us to hold the industry accountable, and that protects children and families.”

He said he is sympathetic to Clarke and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus, of which Horsford is a member, who raised concerns. Horsford said he plans to work with the leadership to resolve those concerns as the bill moves through the legislative process. 

But the GOP-run Senate is not expected to take up the Democrat-drafted smoking bill. 

That is one of the reasons Republican Rep. Mark Amodei voted against the measure. He also said that some of the provisions in the bill have already been addressed including raising the nationwide tobacco purchasing age to 21, which was part of the last spending package, and a limited ban on flavored e-cigarette products. 

“When you look at the major portions of the bill, what it does, it's already been done,” Amodei said earlier in the week.

House Republican leaders sought to try to attach a resolution to the smoking bill that would have condemned positive comments made by Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is the current front runner seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, about Fidel Castro in a recently aired 60 Minutes interview. 

“If anyone wants to know the devastation of socialism and the tyranny that so often accompanies it, I invite them to speak to some of my constituents, including the thousands of former political prisoners and the relatives of current political prisoners, who have witnessed firsthand the destruction that it causes,” said Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart who introduced the resolution last week.

In the interview, Sanders praised the literacy program Castro put in place after taking over the country by force. “We’re very much opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba, but, you know, it’s unfair to say ‘everything is bad,’” Sanders said.

Supporters of the resolution failed to clear a procedural hurdle in order to have it considered. 

Horsford, who has endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden, said that while he has issues with Sanders’ comments, amending an anti-youth smoking bill is not the way to address the matter.

“There's a way to bring about those resolutions at the appropriate time,” Horsford said. “The manner in which he did it wasn't the right time. But the underlying issue is one that should be taken up.”

He added that the comments are an example of why Sanders “shouldn’t become our Democratic nominee.”

For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.

SEN. CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO

Legislation co-sponsored:

S. 3339 – A bill to restore military priorities, and for other purposes.

S. 3333 – Human Trafficking and Exploitation Prevention Training Act of 2020

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation sponsored:

S. 3332 – No CORRUPTION Act

Legislation co-sponsored:

S. 3351 – A bill to direct the Director of the National Science Foundation to support multidisciplinary research on the science of suicide, and to advance the knowledge and understanding of issues that may be associated with several aspects of suicide including intrinsic and extrinsic factors related to areas such as wellbeing, resilience, and vulnerability.

S. 3333 – Human Trafficking and Exploitation Prevention Training Act of 2020

SEN. MARK AMODEI

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 5981 – Credit Union Board Modernization Act

Trump budget calls for 'alternative solutions' for Yucca Mountain

President Donald Trump Monday unveiled his $4.8 trillion fiscal 2021 budget blueprint, which included no funding to build a national nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain and signaled an interest in finding an alternative to the project.

“The Administration is strongly committed to fulfilling its legal obligations to manage and dispose of the Nation’s nuclear waste and will not stand idly by given the stalemate on Yucca Mountain,” the budget said. “To create momentum and ensure progress, the Administration is initiating processes to develop alternative solutions and engaging States in developing an actionable path forward.”

Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, on a call with reporters, said that alternatives to Yucca could include new technologies and that those alternatives could only be temporary.

“We’re going to look at new technologies that might allow us to address the spent fuel,” Brouillette said when asked for details. “But importantly we’re going to work with governors, we’re going to work with policy makers, we’re going to work with private industry to find solutions that may turn out to be on an interim basis. But we are going to find solutions to this important problem.”

Under Secretary of Energy Mark Meneze, who was also on the call, said he expects the president to authorize an interagency process to come up with the alternatives. 

Brouillette’s comments came as Gov. Steve Sisolak released a Feb. 8 letter he wrote to the president asking him to pledge to veto two pending bills that would restart the Yucca licensing process. One measure was introduced by Republican Sen. John Barrasso and the other by Democratic Rep. Jerry McNerney of California, which was approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee in November.

“If you are committed to protecting Nevada in perpetuity, I recommend you also express your resolve to veto any legislation that would undermine the State’s legal standing or consent requirements (e.g., S.2917 or H.R.2699),” Sisolak wrote.

Asked about a veto pledge, Brouillette said that it would be up to the president.

“I can’t speak for the president on that,” Brouillette said. “It’s a hypothetical question. It would obviously depend on what the Congress chose to do. But we are going to be working closely with them as well as other governors, as well as private industry, as well as other policy makers around the country.”

Brouillette referenced a tweet from Trump on Thursday in which the president said he heard Nevadans on the issue of Yucca. But the energy secretary added that the president has also heard from the nation’s other taxpayers who have paid billions into a fund to build the project.

“The American people have paid over the years somewhere north of $40 billion for this problem to be tackled,” Brouillette said. “The president recognizes that and he said very recently that not only does he hear the people of Nevada saying that Yucca Mountain is not an option for them. He also hears the rest of taxpayers all across the country who have paid into this program and want solutions. So that’s what we are charged to do at the Department of Energy and that’s what we’re going to do.” 

One supporter of the project, Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, praised the president’s move. 

“President Trump’s decision to embrace alternatives to storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain is welcome news,” he said in a release. “If we want a future with nuclear power that produces clean, cheap, and reliable energy and creates good jobs that keep America competitive in a global economy, then we have to solve the nuclear waste stalemate.  There is bipartisan support for allowing consolidated nuclear waste storage at private facilities, and I look forward to working with the president to solve this problem.”

Yucca opponents, including Sisolak and most other Nevada lawmakers, argue it is not safe and will ultimately result in contamination of the water in the area. They also contend that the law designating the site for the repository, the 1987 amendments to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA), often referred to in the state as the “Screw Nevada Bill,” was unfairly pushed through in a manner designed to ignore the science. 

Nevada’s congressional delegation has successfully managed to keep the project from receiving funds since 2011.

This story was updated at 1:45. p.m. to include comments from Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette.

Indy DC Download: Senate acquits Trump; Trump wavers on Yucca; House disapproves of proposal to cut Medicaid spending

Photo of the U.S Capitol

The Senate last week wrapped up its impeachment trial by acquitting President Donald Trump as the House approved measures to revamp the labor laws, provide $4.6 billion for Puerto Rico earthquake recovery and disapprove of a White House plan to scale back Medicaid spending.

Those votes came as Trump indicated Thursday that his support was waning for building a national nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain. Rep. Mark Amodei, a Republican, who has been in touch with the Department of Energy (DOE) on the issue, said he is looking forward to Monday’s release of the White House’s fiscal 2021 budget request, which is expected to include no funds for the project and could indicate what alternative the president has in mind for nuclear waste storage.

The Nevada Republican said it would be significant if the budget includes funding for a path other than Yucca. “A pretty neat first step,” Amodei said. 

On impeachment, both Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Sen. Jacky Rosen voted to remove the president on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. 

But the vote tallies on the two articles of impeachment were nowhere near the 67 votes needed to convict and remove Trump from office. The Senate cleared Trump of abuse of power charges on a 52 to 48 vote. The chamber voted 53 to 47 to acquit Trump of obstruction of Congress.

The historic vote capped off two weeks of bitter partisan warfare in the capital that officially started when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced in late September that the chamber would begin an investigation into whether the president should be impeached over his dealings with Ukraine. The House approved two articles of impeachment in December.

Democratic impeachment managers argued that Trump acted improperly by withholding military aid to Ukraine, and a White House visit for President Volodymyr Zelensky, to force the Ukrainian government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential political rival for the presidency. They also contend Trump sought to cover up his alleged wrongdoing by not cooperating with the investigation.

The president has denied any wrongdoing. His legal team argued that his pause of the funding had to do with a concern over corruption in Ukraine and a desire to get America’s European allies to pay a larger share of the cost of securing Ukraine. They also argued that the impeachment process was flawed and that abuse of power was not an impeachable offense when a president believes he is acting in the public interest.

Final votes on impeachment came as House Democrats approved legislation on workers, Puerto Rico and the White House Medicaid proposal with little Republican support. Amodei opposed all but the Puerto Rico measure. All of the measures are unlikely to become law because of opposition from Trump.

Impeachment 

With the end of the impeachment process, Nevada’s Democrats said they had no regrets about supporting it even though it resulted in an acquittal. They also said they were bound by their oaths to impeach in order to uphold the Constitution, which they said they believe Trump violated.

“At the end of the day, there is a constitutional role that we play in Congress and it’s part of our checks and balances,” Cortez Masto said before the final votes, which took place Wednesday. “And we have to do our job, we have to make sure that we're providing the oversight when there is concern, as in this case, as the House managers brought forward, that the president was abusing his power in office.”

Rep. Susie Lee echoed Cortez Masto’s point.

“I didn't come here to impeach the president,” Lee said when asked if she had any second thoughts on voting to impeach. “I actually thought long and hard about that vote and it wasn't an easy vote for me, but it wasn't a political one at all. It was what I felt I had to do to uphold my oath to the Constitution.”

Rep. Dina Titus argued that the process shined a light on the inner workings of the administration that otherwise may have gone unnoticed.

“First, we did our constitutional duty and you can't shirk that no matter what the politics are,” Titus said. “Second, it brought out a lot more information, or at least emphasized that information.” 

She also stressed that it was bipartisan, citing the fact the Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah voted guilty with Democrats on the charge of abuse of power.

“And in the end, it was bipartisan and Romney did the right thing,” Titus continued. “And the president can claim that he was exonerated, but he wasn’t. It wasn't a fair trial. There were no witnesses. And some people even admitted what he did was wrong. They just kind of said, in effect, ‘we’re not going to hold him to it.’”

Republicans, such as Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, said that the House impeachment managers proved their case and that the president acted improperly. But he was a key vote against hearing from new witnesses because he did not believe that what the president did was an impeachable offense. 

Members also said that despite the impeachment, they were hopeful that Congress could turn the page and try to legislate.

“I have to put any personal feelings I could have aside,” Rosen said of the impeachment result. “That's not what I'm elected to do. I'm elected to come here and fight every day to help hard-working men and women not just in Nevada, but across the country try to make their lives better. So I'm going to find every way I can to do that.”

Amodei—who, along with all other House Republicans, voted against the impeachment articles—said it may have helped the president in his re-election bid.

“Nobody's ever in his life, I think, talked about Donald Trump as a victim,” Amodei said. “And guess what? These guys may have done the impossible. And that's made Donald Trump the victim in some people's eyes.”

In a Gallup poll released last week, 49 percent said they approve of the job Trump is doing in office, an all-time high for the president. He also registered a 94 percent approval rating with Republicans. That is six percentage points more than a poll from early January and is three points higher than his previous best among his fellow partisans.  

State of the Union

Democrats, including Titus, were put off by Trump’s tone in Tuesday’s State of the Union address, which they found painfully partisan. 

“I thought he was like a carnival barker,” Titus said. “The only thing he didn’t do was throw paper towels.”

Trump threw rolls of paper towels to victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2017 and was later criticized by island officials for being insensitive.

Amodei disputed that it was excessively partisan.

“That's like a weatherman saying, ‘Hey, I think there's rain’ in the forecast. Come on, seriously,” Amodei said. “Tell me about the apolitical State of the Union.”

“I think it's fair,” Amodei said. “I think you're going to see several launches to this campaign, which is already underway. And that was one of them, quite frankly.”

The Nevada Republican was part of Trump’s Nevada 2016 election operation, but was not asked to resume his role for the 2020 cycle after his support for Congress exercising oversight on the Ukraine matter was mischaracterized by some media outlets as support for impeaching the president.

Republican members of Congress cheered Trump by chanting “four more years” before he started his speech in the House chamber. He also awarded conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh the Medal of Freedom, which is the highest civilian honor.

“That was the biggest insult, I thought,” Titus said of the honoring of Limbaugh.

Trump touted accomplishments, including passing the trade deal between the U.S., Mexico and Canada, and mostly talked about GOP-backed policies that lack Democratic support, including building a wall on the southern border and a crackdown on immigration. But he also called on Congress to pass legislation reducing prescription drug prices and rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure.

Titus, Lee and Rep. Steven Horsford said that they were willing to work with the president on those issues, but were unsure of his sincerity.

“He mentioned infrastructure, but slightly,” Titus said. “He just kind of jumped over it. And he mentioned prescription drugs as though he didn't know about H.R. 3, so how sincere can he be? But, you know, hope springs eternal.”

H.R. 3 is a sweeping prescription drug bill approved by House Democrats in December that would mandate that Medicare directly negotiate the price of up to 250 prescription drugs, including insulin. Negotiation is banned under a 2003 law. The measure would also make the negotiated prices available to those with private insurance.

But Trump opposes the House bill in part because he believes it would hurt innovation in drug research. Hopes for a prescription drug bill now rest with a bipartisan Senate effort to draft a measure led by Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa. 

House action

The House last week passed three measures, including a resolution, 223 to 190, that disapproved of a White House proposal to convert Medicaid into a block grant program, which would threaten the coverage of 630,000 Medicaid beneficiaries in Nevada, said Horsford.

“We will see cuts that disproportionately hurt growing states like Nevada,” Horsford said adding that Democrats would use every means at their disposal to prevent the plan from being implemented.

Medicaid is currently funded by the federal government and the states; funding rises with the cost of health-care services and increased enrollment in the program.

Under the proposal, the federal government would cap its share of the funding each year in exchange for giving states more flexibility on how they can spend the funds. 

“If Trump had his way, they would set the amount, cap it. And future growth would not be factored,” Horsford said. "That would disproportionately hurt children, seniors and those that are on a low income.”

Currently, more than 630,000 people in Nevada rely on Medicaid to access their health care. All could face changes to their coverage, or loss of coverage altogether, in a block grant plan, according to Horsford’s office.

The resolution is unlikely to be considered by the Republican-controlled Senate. No House Republicans voted for the resolution. Amodei said he opposed the measure, in part, because it was designed to be fodder for campaign ads rather than spur a discussion on the issue.

“Nobody's going to do something to harm pregnant women, children, old people and sick people,” he stressed. 

Amodei said he supports giving states more Medicaid spending flexibility, but that has to be balanced against requirements for fiscal responsibility.

“That’s the discussion that I think needs to be had...what do you want for flexibility to allow you to control your own destiny, to some extent,” Amodei said. “But we’re not going to say ‘here, you run the program however you want and we'll just pump money into it and hope you do a good job.’”

“You’ve got to have that discussion, and this does nothing to facilitate that,” he continued.

The House also approved the Protecting the Right to Organize Act on a 224 to 194 vote. Only five Republicans voted with most Democrats in favor of the measure. Seven Democrats voted with most Republicans against the legislation.

Amodei said he opposed the measure because of a provision that would allow workers to override right-to-work laws. Nevada has such a law on the books, which prohibits agreements between labor unions and employers making membership in a union, or payment of union dues, a condition of employment.

The Nevada Republican argued that unions are strong in the state, citing the Culinary Union, as well as unions for teachers and government workers, that have not been hampered by the law.

“I just don't think we need to repeal right-to-work,” Amodei said. “It's working fine in Nevada. It's coexisting fine with a strong union culture.”

He also said the bill was a gift to organized labor. The White House has threatened to veto the measure because of concerns that it would “kill jobs” and runs counter to the president’s deregulation agenda.

Horsford lauded passage of the bill.

“In this current economic climate, the reasons to support unions and the workers they represent are plentiful,” he said. “When workers can stand together and negotiate with their employers, they earn higher wages and narrow both the racial wealth gap and the gender pay gap.”

All of Nevada’s House members voted to provide aid to Puerto Rico. But the White House has threatened a veto citing a desire to wait for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assess damage from the most recent temblor, which struck Tuesday.

For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation sponsored:

S. 3251 – Veterans Assistance Helpline Act

Legislation co-sponsored:

S. 3250 – DHS Opioid Detection Resilience Act of 2020

SEN. DINA TITUS

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 5787 – To amend the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 to clarify whistleblower rights and protections, and for other purposes.

H.R. 5756 – To amend the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 to extend the provision of assistance for critical services with respect to certain disasters, and for other purposes.

SEN. SUSIE LEE

Legislation sponsored:

H.R. 5789 – To allow nonprofit child care providers to participate in the loan programs of the Small Business Administration.

SEN. STEVEN HORSFORD

Legislation sponsored:

H.R. 5798 – For the relief of Cesar Carlos Silva Rodriguez.

H.R. 5787 – To amend the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 to clarify whistleblower rights and protections, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 5767 – To defer the removal of certain Eritrean nationals for a 24-month period, and for other purposes.

Indy DC Download: Congress avoids government shutdown, House panel approves Yucca bill, Senate panel advances VanDyke

East front of the U.S. Capitol Building

The House concluded two weeks of public impeachment hearings as Congress approved a stopgap spending measure last week to keep the government funded through Dec. 20

Approval of the spending bill came as two House committees approved legislation to license storing nuclear waste in Nevada, decriminalizing marijuana and extending a travel promotion program.

Meanwhile, the Senate teed up a final vote on Dan Brouillette to replace Energy Secretary Rick Perry and a Senate panel advanced the nomination of former Nevada Solicitor General Lawrence VanDyke to join the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Spending

As Congress adjourns for its week-long Thanksgiving break, President Donald Trump signed the stopgap spending bill, which included a 3.1 percent military pay raise and funding to support the 2020 census into law on Thursday after it was approved by the Senate on a 74 to 20 vote with both Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Sen. Jacky Rosen voting for the package. The House also passed the so-called continuing resolution (CR) on Tuesday on a 232-192 vote with all of Nevada’s House Democrats voting for the measure.

Only 12 Republicans supported the CR. Rep. Mark Amodei, the only Republican in the delegation, was not among them.

Amodei’s office could not be reached for comment, but Rep. Kay Granger of Texas, the ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee called on her fellow Republicans to oppose the CR. Amodei is a member of the spending panel.

She said she urged support for the last temporary funding measure, which expired Thursday, to provide more time to finish work on the appropriations process, but little if any progress has been made. Granger noted that there isn’t even agreement on how much to spend in each of the 12 annual spending bills.

The previous CR was approved before the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year on a 301 to 123 vote, with the support of all members of the state’s congressional delegation, including Amodei, who has said he is not a fan of CRs, but is even more opposed to shutting down the government. 

The lack of progress on a full-year funding deal bill stems from a disagreement over President Donald Trump’s efforts to seek funding to build a wall on the Mexican border. Republicans support it and are looking to include it in parts of the budget at the expense of priorities, such as low-income labor and health programs, supported by Democrats, who oppose the wall.

Disagreement over the wall funding caused a 35-day government shutdown at the end of last year, the longest in history. But with that shutdown firmly in mind and a presidential election less than a year away, lawmakers, including members of the delegation, don’t want to repeat that situation.

Yucca and DOE

Last week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved legislation that would restart the licensing process for building a national nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, but the measure, which is opposed by the state’s congressional delegation, is not expected to get a vote on the House floor. 

The delegation opposes the project because they argue it’s unsafe. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has historically opposed the storing waste at Yucca, is a key ally and is unlikely to schedule a House vote on the bill, despite a unanimous, bipartisan voice vote by the 55-member panel.

Asked about the House panel’s action, Cortez Masto reiterated that she has a commitment from Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York to oppose the project. 

I “have a commitment from Senator Schumer that Yucca's going nowhere and that we're going to continue fighting the funding for it here in the Senate,” she said in a statement provided by her office. 

Nuclear waste was also on Cortez Masto’s mind when she voted Thursday against ending debate on the nomination of Dan Brouillette to lead the DOE.

On Twitter, Cortez Masto said that Brouillette, who currently serves as Perry’s deputy, was at the helm of DOE, along with Perry, when the agency revealed in July that it sent shipments of radioactive waste over six years to the Nevada National Security Site that did not meet disposal requirements.

She also noted that the agency disclosed in January as part of a lawsuit filed by the state to prevent any plutonium from being shipped to Nevada—after talks with DOE yielded no resolution—that it had already shipped the plutonium. 

“My vote against Mr. Brouillette is a vote of concern against DOE's relationship with the state of Nevada,” Cortez Masto said. “I hope that relationship improves and that Mr. Brouillette, and the department he now leads, will step up and restore that trust with the state of NV.”

Rosen also cited a “violation of trust” as her reason for opposing Brouillette’s nomination. Final approval on his nomination is expected during the first week of December.

VanDyke

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the VanDyke’s nomination on a party-line vote. 

Rosen was in the audience to watch the vote. She lamented the panel’s action as she left the committee room.

The vote comes after Rosen and Cortez Masto formed two commissions, one for the North and one for the South, to select judicial nominees. Under their plan, the commissions would join together to select a nominee for the Ninth Circuit. 

But the panel was not yet established when the two senators were in talks with the White House over a suitable nominee for the appellate court, which has jurisdiction over District Court cases tried in Nevada. The senators said the negotiations were not fruitful because the administration seemed to have already decided on VanDyke.

Asked if she was concerned that the White House would try to force another judge on the state should an opening arise, she said that it did worry her.

“I certainly hope not, but with this administration, I think that they know no boundary,” Rosen said. “You see that over and over again, in every single area of this administration, whether it's judicial, whether it's immigration, whether it's taxation, you name it, environmental, they know no boundary, they respect no boundary.”

Miscellany 

The House Judiciary Committee approved legislation that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level. The bill, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, was approved on a 24 to 10 vote. 

“I think it's real big,” said Rep. Dina Titus, who is a cosponsor of the measure. “We’ll see what happens when it comes to the floor.” 

Rep. Steven Horsford is also a cosponsor of the bill, which along with removing the substance from the Controlled Substances Act, would also require federal courts to expunge prior convictions, allows prior offenders to request expungement, and requires courts, on motion, to conduct re-sentencing hearings for those still under supervision.

Nevada is one of 11 states that have legalized recreational marijuana and one of the 33 states that have legalized medical marijuana.

The bill would also allow marijuana and related businesses to get loans from the Small Business Administration.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee also approved legislation that would extend Brand USA through fiscal 2027. Brand USA is a national, coordinated marketing organization to promote international travel to the United States. Funding for the program comes from private donations and fees charged to international visitors who register for visas to enter the U.S. The bill would also raise the fee.

“That’s great,” Titus said. “We’ve been working on that.”

“That's been a priority of the Travel and Tourism Caucus which I chair,” she added. 

All members of the House delegation are cosponsors of the bill and the state’s senators are cosponsors of the Senate version.

The House was also busy with its second week of public impeachment hearings, and the Judiciary Committee is expected to hold hearings after the Thanksgiving recess. 

The Republican National Committee and other groups on the right side of the aisle have used the impeachment proceedings as an occasion to target Rep. Susie Lee and Horsford.

Last week, the American Action Network, a conservative issues organization, bought $500,000 worth of TV and digital ads targeting Lee on impeachment

The 30-second spot casts the impeachment hearings as a “politically motivated charade” and accuses Lee of siding with “partisan impeachment” over legislating issues

AAN is funded almost entirely via the Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican super PAC with ties to GOP House leaders. 

But Lee said she doesn’t worry about the attacks and tries to keep her attention on her constituents.

“I have really focused on running a constituent-based operation,” she said Wednesday. “I'm going to hold my fifth Town Hall on Saturday. They're going to spend money to come after me, but the bottom line is I'm delivering results for my constituents. And that's what I'll continue to do.”

She cited two veterans bills of hers that the House passed earlier this month.

For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.

SEN. CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO

Legislation sponsored:

S. 2904 – A bill to direct the Director of the National Science Foundation to support research on the outputs that may be generated by generative adversarial networks, otherwise known as deepfakes, and other comparable techniques that may be developed in the future, and for other purposes.

S. 2890 – A bill to promote conservation, improve public land, and provide for sensible development in Douglas County, Nevada, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S. 2929 – A bill to protect victims of crime or serious labor violations from removal during Department of Homeland Security enforcement actions, and for other purposes.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation co-sponsored:

S. 2928 – A bill to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to reauthorize the University Sustainability Program.

S. 2890 – A bill to promote conservation, improve public land, and provide for sensible development in Douglas County, Nevada, and for other purposes.

S. 2885 A bill to prohibit the transfer or sale of certain consumer health information, and for other purposes.

REP. DINA TITUS

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 5139 – Stop Sexual Assault and Harassment in Transportation Act

REP. MARK AMODEI

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 5038 – Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019

REP. STEVEN HORSFORD

Legislation sponsored:

H.R.5154 To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to include geothermal energy in the 30 percent energy credit.

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 5221 –  To declare a national goal that the United States achieve a 100 percent clean economy by not later than 2050, and for other purposes.

H.R. 5160 –  To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to modify the energy efficient commercial buildings deduction.

H.R. 5159 – To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to include home energy audits in the nonbusiness energy property credit.

H.R. 5158 – To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide for elective payments to Indian tribal governments for energy property and electricity produced from certain renewable resources.

H.R. 5157 – To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide for elective payments for energy property and electricity produced from certain renewable resources.

Yucca bill advanced by panel not likely to see House floor

A miner walking inside the South Portal at Yucca Mountain

The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved legislation that would restart the licensing process for building a national nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, but the measure, which is opposed by the state’s congressional delegation, is not expected to get a vote on the House floor. 

The bill, which is sponsored by California Democratic Rep. Jerry McNerney and long-time Yucca proponent Illinois Republican Rep. John Shimkus, was approved on a unanimous voice vote. The panel has 55 members.

“Technical and engineering solutions to temporary and permanent storage of nuclear waste do exist and can be safely implemented,” McNerney said at the markup. “The real impediment to establishing any sort of nuclear waste disposal is political. If we continue to let politics and scare tactics prevent any action at all, we will eventually have a deadly accident of unknown magnitude.”

But despite the bipartisan vote, the Nevada delegation has pledged to keep the legislation off the floor. 

“Not on my watch,” said Rep. Steven Horsford, when asked about the committee’s action and whether the measure would get a vote by the full House.

The delegation’s leverage on the issue derives from the fact the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has historically not supported the Yucca project. She is also unlikely to hold a vote on the measure over the objections of Horsford and Rep. Susie Lee, recently elected Democrats who have been targeted by the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of House Republicans.

That’s what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did before the 2018 midterm election to protect former Sen. Dean Heller who, nevertheless, lost his re-election bid. The House had passed a similar Yucca bill in 2018 on a 340 to 72 vote. That vote took place after the energy committee approved the measure in 2017 on a 40 to 4 vote. 

Along with restarting the licensing of Yucca, the bill would also establish a temporary nuclear waste storage program, which is one reason for the measure's broad bipartisan support. That provision would allow some of the 121 communities in 39 states where commercial and defense waste is currently stored to be moved to a temporary facility while Yucca is built.

But the delegation tends to work together to keep the project from being advanced. In May, they managed to defeat an amendment to the Department of Energy’s budget that would have provided $74 million to continue the process to license a national nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain.

Starving the project of funding has been a critical tool in the delegation’s Yucca fight. The project last received federal funds in 2011. That funding drought is something Rep. Dina Titus underscored when she noted that even if the McNerny-Shimkus bill were to be approved by the House and become law, funds would still need to be appropriated. 

“That’s the key,” she said in a brief interview Tuesday, adding that said she also doesn’t believe the House would take up the measure.

Shortly before the energy panel considered the bill, Titus spearheaded a letter to her congressional colleagues opposing the measure that was signed by all of Nevada’s House lawmakers, including Republican Rep. Mark Amodei, who has voiced support to continue studying the project.

The letter highlighted provisions in the bill that would change existing law and prevent Nevada from opposing the environmental impacts and technical challenges of the project.

“This bill pushes us even further away from a workable solution to the issue of safe and long-term nuclear waste disposal,” the letter said.

The delegation contends that the project is not safe and will ultimately result in contamination of the water in the area. They also argue that the law designating the project, the 1987 amendments to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA), often referred to in the state as the “Screw Nevada Bill,” was unfairly pushed through in a way designed to ignore the science. 

Instead, the letter makes the case for a bill, introduced by Democrats in Nevada’s congressional delegation, that would require state and local consent to advance the project and allow progress to be made on the issue.

“We stand ready to work with the Committee members to move our nation forward,” the letter said. 

Nevada's veto power a sticking point in congressional negotiations on Yucca Mountain

House proponents of storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain are unwilling to negotiate with members of the state’s congressional delegation over whether to give the state veto power over building the repository. 

But key members of the Senate, led by Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski, who are frustrated with the lack of progress on the long-delayed project, are working with Nevada’s senators to pass nuclear waste legislation that would include a consent provision for the state. 

California Democratic Rep. Jerry McNerney and Illinois Republican Rep. John Shimkus have introduced legislation to restart the licensing process to build the national nuclear waste repository. The measure is expected to get a hearing in the Energy and Commerce Committee in September along with other proposals for storing the nation’s nuclear waste, according to the two lawmakers, who both serve on the panel. 

But both rejected the idea of including language in their bill that would require the Department of Energy (DOE) to get consent from the state as well as affected local governments and Indian tribes in order to move forward with the project, which is opposed by most Nevada officials and would force the DOE to start the process of looking for a site all over again. 

“We can’t take the project off the table from the beginning,” McNerney said recently, adding that he wants the people of Nevada to have input on the project.

Rep. Dina Titus said that it was a contradiction to want to seek input from Nevada on Yucca, but not allow it to have veto power.

“You can’t have it both ways,” she said.

Shimkus, who has been a vocal advocate of building the facility at Yucca Mountain, agreed with McNerney that allowing the state to veto the project would be a setback. He said that the point of leverage for project supporters is the fact that Yucca Mountain was designated as the site for the nation’s nuclear waste repository under the 1987 amendments to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA), often referred to in the state as the “Screw Nevada Bill.”

“Federal legislators, years ago decided; [they] fought this fight, and they came down on a national solution,” Shimkus said. 

“I think they'll get there, but it has to be ‘it's going to happen,’” he said of Nevada. “As long as they can delay it, then why get there.”

Shimkus believes the negotiation should be over how to implement the project such as state-preferred routes for shipping the wastes and funds for research and development. 

“I think the sky’s the limit,” Shimkus said. 

Titus dismissed Shimkus noting that his bill allows for consent for interim storage sites, but not for the permanent Yucca site.

“There's just no logical rationale for saying we need consent-based [siting] on interim [nuclear waste storage], but not permanent,” she said.  

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto similarly would not entertain any such negotiation on the project when asked about Shimkus’ take on the issue.

“I’m more concerned about the Senate side,” she said. “On the House side, that’s Shimkus’ world. I disagree with him. But I'm focused on my colleagues here and doing what we need to do to stop Yucca Mountain on this side.”

The Nevada Democrat has been working with Murkowski, who is chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee—a panel on which Cortez Masto serves. In March Cortez Masto introduced, with Sen. Jacky Rosen, the Nuclear Waste Informed Consent Act (NWICA), which would require DOE to enter into agreements with the state and affected localities and tribes in order to use dollars from the Nuclear Waste Fund to advance the project. The fund was established by the NWPA in 1982 to build the national repository. 

Murkowski introduced a bill, titled Nuclear Waste Administration Act (NWAA) of 2019, which includes language that would implement a consent-based process for consolidated storage facilities. But that is not extended to Nevada. Murkowski is working with Cortez Masto to include language similar to the NWICA in the NWAA so that Nevada be able to consent to the project in order for it to be built. Talks are ongoing, both senators said.

The Alaska Republican said she agreed to negotiate because Nevada has kept the project from moving forward, which has hindered the deployment of advancements in nuclear power. 

“I recognize that the same approach that has been taken for years has gotten us nowhere,” Murkowski said. “And and as a consequence of that, we're not able to make progress on the other areas of nuclear energy that I find really very exciting; with our advanced nuclear or small modular reactors or micro reactors, we're not going to be able to get moving on that until we can work [out] a deal on waste.”

The delegation has managed to keep Congress from providing funds for Yucca Mountain since 2011.

Other senators involved in the talks include Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander, who supports building Yucca, but wants Congress to decide the issue, once and for all, with a vote, so that a nuclear waste strategy can be implemented, with or without the project. California Democrat Dianne Feinstein has also been involved in the discussion. 

Senate Republican leaders prevented a House-approved Yucca bill from getting a vote in 2018 in an effort to help the re-election of former Sen. Dean Heller and to protect the GOP majority in the Senate. A similar dynamic played out in the House with the state’s House Democrats working closely with Speaker Nancy Pelosi to keep the project at bay.

Alexander, who is chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that controls the DOE’s budget, would not say if he plans to include funding for the project in his bill.

“We'll see about that,” Alexander said. “We need to find some way to deal with used nuclear fuel,”

Feinstein, who is the panel’s ranking Democrat, said she doesn’t expect Yucca funds to be in the bill. “I would think not,” she said when asked.

The Senate’s DOE spending bill could be considered by the Appropriations Committee as soon as Sept. 12, when the panel is set to vote on the first round of the 12 annual appropriations measures.

“We are going to work in August,” Alexander said, adding that he has told full committee chairman Richard Shelby, a Republican from Alabama, that the DOE spending bill would be ready to be part of the package of bills the panel takes up next month.

“If [Shelby] passes a bill in September, we won't want one of them to be ours,” Alexander said.

It remains to be seen whether any Yucca amendments would be offered, as in the House Appropriations Committee in May. The Nevada House delegation worked diligently to persuade enough appropriators to narrowly defeat an amendment that would have provided funds to restart the licensing.